ARIZONA NEWS

Don Laughlin, visionary of Nevada town and casino-resort owner, is dead at 92

Oct 23, 2023, 6:00 PM | Updated: 6:48 pm

don laughlin riverside casino resort...

Don Laughlin's Riverside Resort Hotel & Casino (Facebook)

(Facebook)

LAUGHLIN, Nev. (AP) — Donald “Don” J. Laughlin, a resort owner and the namesake of a southern Nevada town that he turned into a tourist destination, has died. He was 92.

Laughlin died Sunday at his penthouse home at the Riverside Resort Hotel & Casino in Laughlin, Diana Fuchs, the resort’s marketing director, said Monday. He died of natural causes.

Family and other relatives had been with Laughlin for several days before his death.

“Don … in true Don Laughlin spirit, was still trying to make them laugh with his jokes,” Fuchs said in an email to The Associated Press.

Innovator of Sin City alternative

Laughlin is credited as the architect behind the transformation of an area of dirt and weeds 100 miles south of Las Vegas into a thriving alternative to Sin City.

“When we came here there was a dirt road in here and you had to come in by way of the dam,” Laughlin told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2016 while celebrating the resort’s 50th anniversary. “If it rained, you couldn’t get here.”

Situated on the lower Colorado River and along the Nevada-Arizona border, Laughlin is currently home to eight casino resorts. Nearly 2 million visitors travel there each year, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Laughlin was born in Owatonna, Minnesota. Even as a teen, he was running gambling operations. He was known to use earnings from mink trapping to buy and install slot machines at local pubs, according to the Riverside Resort’s website.

When Laughlin was in ninth grade, his school principal issued an ultimatum to either stay in school or stay in the slot business, where he made $500 a week.

“I said, ‘I’m making three times what you are, so I’m out the door,’” Laughlin recalled to the Review-Journal.

From desert to a city

In 1964, 10 years after buying a gambling business in North Las Vegas, Laughlin sold it for $165,000, according to his biography posted on the resort’s website. He visited the Mohave Desert and saw a stretch of land called Tri-State was unoccupied. Laughlin bought a boarded-up motel and 6 acres (2.4 hectares) along the riverfront.

The Riverside Resort opened in 1966.

It was two years later that the area became Laughlin. A U.S. Postal Service inspector told the casino owner he needed a name to receive mail. It was the inspector who suggested his surname, according to the Riverside Resort’s website.

His influence on the region only grew from there.

In 1986, Laughlin bankrolled the construction of the Laughlin Bridge connecting Nevada and Arizona. In 1991, he donated land and the funds for Laughlin/Bullhead City International Airport. Many of his employees were Arizona residents.

Laughlin became a revered figure who would greet staff and guests while strolling through the hotel and casino.

Laughlin is survived by one sister, three children, five grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.

His wife, Betty, died in January 2022 at 89, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Plans for a memorial service are still being determined.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

Three panel image, left to right, of Ruben Gallego, Kari Lake and Kyrsten Sinema...

Kevin Stone

New Arizona Senate poll: Ruben Gallego up big over Kari Lake in race for Kyrsten Sinema’s seat

A new poll on Arizona's U.S. Senate race is good news for Ruben Gallego, bad news for Kari Lake and worse news for Kyrsten Sinema.

3 minutes ago

Brunson Lee elementary school district sign...

KTAR.com

Manhunt yields no results after shooting suspect seen going into Phoenix elementary school

A manhunt came up empty after a shooting suspect was seen running into an elementary school before students arrived Thursday morning.

3 hours ago

Chandler innovation fair 2024 East Valley...

Serena O'Sullivan

Chandler Innovation Fair to celebrate innovation with hundreds of hands-on science exhibits

The yearly Chandler Innovation Fair, which celebrates innovators and scientists of all ages in the East Valley, will return on Saturday.

5 hours ago

One Handsome Bastard photo...

Serena O'Sullivan

Old Town Scottsdale’s 1st microdistillery opens in former Blue Clover Distillery space

The space previously occupied by Blue Clover Distillery is now known as One Handsome Bastard. The name honors the late Brad Ritchie.

5 hours ago

gavel photo threatening federal...

Serena O'Sullivan

Arizona man sentenced to over 7 years for trying to traffic methamphetamine

A federal judge in Arizona sentenced a Tucson man to over seven years in prison for drug trafficking, officials announced on Wednesday.

5 hours ago

Follow @ktar923...

Sponsored Content by Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

Sponsored Articles

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

...

DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 

Don Laughlin, visionary of Nevada town and casino-resort owner, is dead at 92